Fishy Benedict Arnold: a First Attempt

So, I’m currently on a work schedule that has me working primarily in the evening. Yesterday, I realized that this schedule provides me with a golden opportunity to make delicious breakfast foods and post about them here. I’ve recently begun to enjoy eggs Benedict, so I figured that I would offer up my own pretty much non-unique twist on the eggs Benedict concept. Salmon Benedict is on the menu at nearly all my favorite brunch spots, but I’ve never actually tried it before. Something about a poached egg reminded me of a hard-boiled egg, and I’ve always been absolutely disgusted by them. However, in my recent endeavors to be more adventurous with what I cook and what I eat, I figured I’d try out this traditionally difficult breakfast. At least, somebody told me that it was difficult once. At several points in the process I nearly panicked, but I was able to ultimately make something that I was pretty proud of.

IMG_20130614_100647_867

I have never poached an egg before. I have never made hollandaise sauce. I have never separated an egg. I was very excited for this grand adventure this morning! I lined up my ingredients for a photo-shoot. They were very excited too.

Incidentally, I realized when I looked up a simple hollandaise sauce recipe that eggs Benedict is made almost entirely of stuff that I almost always have on hand.  I went out and got some fresh parsley and white vinegar, but I probably could have used white wine vinegar, which I always have.

First, I made the sauce.

I juiced a lemon by hand:

IMG_20130614_101306_676

My roommate has a little egg separator thing that you drop the egg into and it lets the white filter down and keeps the yolk in a little concave bit. unfortunately, it didn’t really work. I resorted to gingerly separating them by letting the whites filter through my hands. I didn’t bother to look up how to separate an egg before I made the sauce. I was making it much harder than it needs to be, apparently. I sort of successfully separated the eggs and added the lemon juice…

IMG_20130614_102124_987

…and then I vigorously whisked them together:

IMG_20130614_102256_847

I melted half a stick of butter (probably WAY too much):

IMG_20130614_102554_015

Then I set the whisked yolk / lemon juice mixture on a saucepan with a little bit of water that was lightly simmering.

IMG_20130614_102549_470

I slowly started to whisk in the butter, making sure that the temperature of the simmering water below did not increase too much so that my egg yolks would not scramble.

IMG_20130614_103434_666

This was the most difficult part of the entire experience. The warm melted butter seemed to harden the yolks quite a bit, even though I was spooning it in very gradually after the sauce became runny again as I whisked the butter in. I had to add about a teaspoon of room-temperature water a few times to bring the sauce back to what I thought was the correct consistency. After I added what I felt was enough butter (way less than what my recipe called for), I whisked in a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt. I tasted it, and it was surprisingly good. Subtle, but complex. I imagine that with farm fresh eggs, it would be much less subtle but equally complex.

IMG_20130614_103549_791

Oh, and thanks to my mom for providing me with enough corningware to sink a ship; it’s been handy quite a few times. I set the sauce in the oven at 190 degrees to keep it warm.

Now for the salmon, English muffin, and egg prep.

IMG_20130614_103835_336

Sliver of coconut oil into the pan, heated until just before smoking.

IMG_20130614_105107_669

I filleted the skin off the salmon and started to sear it in the pan. Then I cracked two eggs into a bowl / measuring cup and set them aside.

IMG_20130614_104945_458

I started to boil water in a stainless steel pot for poaching the eggs, but I realized about 3 minutes later that I would really benefit from a non-stick pot for the eggs, so I grabbed one and transferred the water over. Mind you, I have never poached an egg before, and I didn’t really look up how to do it ahead of time. I was flying by the seat of my pants. I guess it was a good instinct, but I’ll never know until I try to poach an egg in a stainless steel pot.

The salmon was cooking nicely (I turned it over when the color changed about 2/3 of the way through the cut of fish):

IMG_20130614_104951_547

My English muffin was in the toaster oven, ready to go at a moment’s notice:

IMG_20130614_105512_518

I was ready to go with the poached egg!

IMG_20130614_105610_726

Now, to be completely fair here, I did add two teaspoons of white vinegar to the water, because I read somewhere that it helped the white cook faster and not spread out in the water. So I did have a little bit of knowledge of poaching eggs, even though I’d never actually done it before.

…and we’re off!

IMG_20130614_105636_169

This and the next few pictures were taken within 2 minutes of each other. I will give a play-by-play of my thoughts as I was snapping the pictures. All comments below refer to the pictures above them. “Oh, crap, my water isn’t hot enough. better turn it up a bit. The white are separating and drifting all over the place. Crap.”

IMG_20130614_105655_585

“Oh, it’s sort of folded back onto itself. That’s good. The yolk looks incredibly exposed. That’s not supposed to happen. Crap.”

IMG_20130614_105717_606

“Okay, the whites are starting to come together and bond a bit more. The yolk looks very exposed. How am I gonna remove this without breaking the yolk? Crap.”

IMG_20130614_105723_789

“Hmm. It seems like the little trails of egg white have started to break off. I hope I’m left with the egg in one piece. But I’m not as worried. Still, crap.”

IMG_20130614_105936_307

“Okay, this looks a lot better. The whites have bonded together for the most part and started to solidify, and the flakes of white will probably fall off when I remove the egg with this slotted spoon that I just found in the drawer. Maybe this will actually be good after all.”

IMG_20130614_110150_046

“Well, this isn’t exactly Bon Appetit Magazine quality, but it’s done. Baby’s first poached egg.”

The second egg did nearly the exact same thing, except, I think I poured it in more gently, so it looked even better when it was done. Unfortunately, I cooked the second egg for about 45 seconds too long, and the yolk partially hardened.

I cut the salmon into two smaller pieces, toasted the English muffin, and plated some mixed greens.

I had to add a little bit more water to the hollandaise to make it runny enough to spoon onto the eggs. After the toast, salmon, eggs, and sauce, I added a pinch of parsley to each. The finished product:

IMG_20130614_110709_045

TASTE:

The sauce was fantastic. I’m very proud of that. The eggs, however, tasted slightly vinegary. I probably used too much vinegar in the boiling water, and the temperature wasn’t high enough, so they were exposed to the vinegar in the water for longer than they probably should have been. Also, one egg was, as I said before, slightly overcooked. See reference photos below:

IMG_20130614_111050_794

The egg that has been cut into is the egg that I cooked second.  The next image is of the first egg. Beautiful runny yolk.

IMG_20130614_111309_514

Overall, this has been a huge success. I will be repeating this sometime in the near future. Here is a gratuitous food porn picture of the finished product:

IMG_20130614_110738_462

The only downside to this meal is that the cleanup is enormous. SO. MANY. DISHES. Just for one meal. Definitely worth it though! That’s all for now.

STATS:

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Eating time: OM NOM NOM

Drunk Roommate Seal of Approval: unavailable for comment

Mood: OOOO YOU FANCY

Music playing while preparing: LCD Soundsystem: Dance Yrself Clean 

Peace!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Three Steaks: The Ballad of the Cast Iron Skillet

So I’ve been sitting on these photos and food experiences for quite a while now. I apologize to keep all two or three of you who actually want to read my ramblings waiting, but I promise that it’s gonna be a good one. It’s a long one, so buckle up.

Remember when I said that I would make sure to post my successes and failures with equal weight? This is one of those failures. Or shall I say two failures. A great many failures. Failures in the form of red meat and cookware.

This all began a few weeks ago when my girlfriend’s lovely mother gave me a cast iron skillet that she had lying around. My last roommate had a whole set of extremely well seasoned cast iron cookware, and I had been missing cooking with them. The pan was in decent shape, but the seasoning had worn off a bit. It hadn’t rusted, but I’m not sure what it was originally seasoned with. The seasoning was a bit uneven. However, instead of cleaning it, stripping the seasoning off, cleaning it again, and re-seasoning the pan, I decided to just add some more seasoning on top of it. I heated the pan on the stovetop for a few minutes and pre-heated my oven for 350. I smeared some olive oil onto the pan with a paper towel, and I put it in the oven for 30 minutes. Not knowing any better, I took it out and examined it. It had a nice black sheen. I thought, “mission accomplished!” but boy oh boy was I wrong. The pan looked nice and shiny, but I didn’t bake it for long enough, and, more importantly, I didn’t strip the old seasoning off. I essentially just laid a very thin layer of polymerized fat on top of the old, dirty seasoning. It was also slightly sticky. Not exactly what I wanted. The non-stick properties of cast iron pans is caused by the oil polymerizing and bonding with the iron. Some oils bond better with the iron. Olive oil is not one of them. My girlfriend and my roommate are undoubtedly sick of hearing about this silly pan and my obsession with it. I’ll get back to the pan “science” later in the post. Here’s a shot of it just before I heated it up after I “seasoned” it with the olive oil:

IMG_20130415_192942_738

Without really doing much research, I decided to go ahead and try to break in the new pan. I decided to challenge myself; I don’t have much experience with red meat, so I decided to make a steak for all the internet to see. I don’t know the first thing about steak. I know that I like it medium rare. I know it’s good with pepper. I know that I should eat it with a full-bodied red wine. That’s about it. I originally wanted to make a filet mignon, although I wasn’t even really aware what cut of the cow that I wanted to eat. I must have looked pretty silly standing in the beef section of Shaw’s on my phone looking up where on the cow each cut comes from. I picked out a boneless NY strip top sirloin…

IMG_20130415_192925_430

…and some green beans and potatoes and went home to experiment with my shiny poorly seasoned pan.

Following the advice of my mother, I decided to pan sear one side, and then stick it in the broiler for a few minutes. I tossed some potatoes in some olive oil in a Teflon skillet and put the beans in some boiling water (easy peasy) and I seasoned the steak with a bit of salt and pepper. Here’s where things starter to go south. I didn’t really know what “broil” meant, other than the fact that there was a button for it on my oven. It also only had low, medium, and high settings. So I, being very inexperienced with the oven, turned on the broiler on high right as I set the potatoes on the stove, and I left the door shut. I found out later with some simple googling that you should leave the door open when you broil, because instead of cooking with heated air (baking) you are essentially turning on the top heating element in the oven and cooking the food with induction. This makes perfect sense to me now, but at the time, I just figured that the door was meant to be shut. So as I heated up the air inside the oven, preparing to accidentally bake my steak, I peeled the potatoes and overcooked the green beans:

IMG_20130415_194401_469

IMG_20130415_195510_381

A recipe for steak that I was glancing at earlier mentioned a red wine and balsamic vinegar rub and sauce, so I prepped it (and myself for the ensuing tragedy) with a little bit of this old stand-by in the Ferry house…

IMG_20130415_193322_869

I have discovered in recent months that I really enjoy a nice pinot noir, but I’m not a fan of fuller-bodied red wines like cabernet, but I couldn’t help but sample it. After all, I enjoyed the pinot grigio that I used to make the sauce for my scallops, and, as my roommate says, a glass for the chef is a requirement when cooking with wine…

IMG_20130415_194613_660

I was ready to throw the steak on the pan. I didn’t add any oil at all, and I had turned the heat up pretty high on the burner to heat the pan. I wanted to go for that nice charred look on the bottom of the steaks that I see in other more experienced peoples’ blogs. The pan was smoking hot (another issue, as I will address in a bit), and I tossed the steak onto the pan. It sizzled right away with that familiar sound. It sounded like I was doing everything right. The sizzle of the steak lulled me into a false sense of security. I felt I could do no wrong. Well, the wine probably helped as well. I was feeling good enough to take a photo of the steak cooking in the pan:

IMG_20130415_200337_643

The first red flag I should have noticed was the fact that the oil that I had just used to season the pan had not actually hardened very well, and it started to liquify. I only oiled the cooking surface (ANOTHER mistake that I will address further down) and I think I’m actually lucky that the oil didn’t go rancid in the time that I spent between seasoning and cooking. The steak looked decent, though, and it looked like the bottom was cooking nicely. Here’s where I made another HUGE mistake. I poured a generous helping of my red wine and vinegar sauce into the piping hot pan.

I wish I had gotten a picture of this, but because what happened caused the most ridiculous moment of panic, I didn’t have the presence of mind to grab the camera. The alcohol didn’t flash fire or anything fancy like that, but I bet it was pretty close. The real damage, however, came from the vinegar. Vinegar, as I’ve found out, is fairly acidic, and is exactly the kind of thing you’re not supposed to put in a cast iron pan. It immediately began to eat through the seasoning around the edges of the steak. The liquid mixture was bubbling and popping and splashing everywhere, so instead of calmly trying to fix the problem, I opened the oven door and stuffed the pan in. I also didn’t put it on the top burning right next to the broiler, but the damage had already been done, as the broiler had been on for about 20 minutes at this point on high with the oven door shut. I proceeded to wipe the sweat off my brow and chug that glass of wine as fast as I could.

My mother had recommended that I only broil it for two minutes if I wanted medium rare. I opened the door after 2 minutes, and saw a relatively gross piece of steak staring back at me. It was sort of grey and colorless, and it almost looked soggy from all that wine and vinegar that I poured all over it before I hastily put it in the broiler. I let it cook for another minute, which actually was the right thing to do, for once, because when I took it out and cut it open, it was on the rare side of medium rare.

At this point, I got impatient, so I cut it in half, plated it, and snapped a quick memento…

IMG_20130415_201047_037

You can almost see that the bottom of the steak was sort of charred, but the wine, vinegar, and the baking instead of broiling basically ruined it. It was tough, soggy, and very metallic. I found out later upon inspecting the pan that I also ate a big chunk of the old seasoning that had come off when I poured the vinegar-wine mixture on the steak.

I was pretty annoyed with myself at this point. I reluctantly forced down the whole thing (although the potatoes were not too bad, albiet burnt) and tossed the leftover piece. No way was I eating that thing again. I almost immediately sat down and did some research on the pan and on broiling. Oops. I vowed to never make that mistake again! The hero of the kitchen can’t make these critical mistakes! One day I will master steak or risk having my man card taken away by the guy-food police!

When I went to clean up, I discovered pretty quickly that there was something fishy up with the pan. I knew to wash it nearly immediately with hot water and then let it dry on the stove for a few minutes with the burner on to evaporate all the remaining water. The problem was that there was a section of seasoning that was removed that was the shape of the steak. You can sort of see it in this picture:

IMG_20130425_200141_332

At least, that’s what was left of it. I suspected at this point that the seasoning was destroyed. I tried to strip the seasoning off with a method that I read about online: salt and a little bit of oil with some steel wool. It helped a little bit, but it mostly just made a mess and dulled the steak outline a little bit. See here:

IMG_20130425_195755_886

I decided to go another route. I couldn’t seem to clean off the seasoning, so I decided to just add more on top of it. A silly idea. When I was reading about seasoning pans, I read somewhere that coconut oil was a good seasoning agent, although that’s not at all the route that I have chosen to take at this point. However, I bought a jar of coconut oil, which is actually sort of a gross solid fat, and attempted to add another layer of seasoning on top of the mess that I had made. I melted the coconut oil in the pan, spread it around, and then set the pan (upside down this time so that the oil didn’t pool and gather) in the oven at 400 degrees for half an hour. This time the pan came out looking slightly less shiny than the initial seasoning with olive oil, and it didn’t really cover up the strange steak-shaped outline in the pan. I discovered later that coconut oil is not a great oil for seasoning either, as it is a saturated fat instead of polyunsaturated fat, and therefore has fewer bonding points that will bond with the iron in the heat. Coconut oil is not unlike seasoning your pan with lard, though. People have been using lard and other saturated fats for as long as cast iron cookware has existed with great success. Here is a fantastic chart on different fats and oils with smoke points and all sorts of other mumbo-jumbo!

I, at this point, decided to try another steak in the pan to see if the coconut oil had improved anything at all. I used a similar cut of steak (bone-in NY Strip top sirloin this time), and I bought a second steak to cook on the grill for comparison. Unfortunately my phone was dead during this venture, so I have no photographic evidence of this travesty.

The pan seared steak was terrible. I cooked it very similarly to how I did it the first time. I even made the same side dishes! My attention to detail was impeccable at this point. I broiled it properly (door OPEN) and I didn’t bathe the steak in vinegar while it was cooking, or at all for that matter. However, this steak didn’t cook through properly, like my last one had. It was tough to cut and chew, but it was on the rare side in the center. It was also grey and metallic tasting. My theory was that I was still tasting the iron and very old seasoning from the pan. Sure enough, there was a steak-shaped discolored ring in the pan even after I washed it out and scrubbed it with warm water. The grilled steak, on the other hand, was fantastic. Rare, juicy, tender, and red. I’d eat 1000 of them if I could. Disheartened, I went inside and did the dishes with my head hung in shame.

The next day, I tried once again to season the pan, this time with canola oil, but I left it on the stove top too long by accident. I poured some oil into the pan with the intention of spreading it around, and it started to bubble around the outlines of my two previous steaks. It produced a lovely black gunk that I wished I’d taken a picture of. It was truly disgusting. I realized that this black gunk was what I had been ingesting when I was eating the steaks and tasting a metallic twinge in the food.

I decided to go back to the drawing board. My Google-Fu is pretty strong, so I went back to the internet, determined to learn as much as I could about cast iron skillet seasoning. Let me be clear. II have read just about all there is to read about cast iron online. The following methods that I decided to use were the most uniformly respected and repeated and referenced methods online today. I stumbled across this wonderful blog post getting down to the nitty-gritty science behind seasoning; she recommended flaxseed oil because it hardens extremely well, creates the best non-stick surface, and bonds with iron better than almost any other edible oil.

I also researched how to recondition an old pan and completely strip the old seasoning. It seems that the best method is an electrolysis bath, but that’s not something I really have access to. Besides, this pan isn’t an antique Griswold or Wagner pan. It’s a Lodge #8SQ2 a well made American pan, probably made in the 80’s or 90’s before Lodge started only selling skillets that are pre-seasoned with vegetable oil in their factory in Tennessee. There are quite a few cooking snobs out there on the internet that seem to look down on Lodge, but I think it’s just because they are seasoning perfectionists, and they don’t want to have to use Lodge’s pre-seasoned pans. It’s apparently virtually impossible to buy a new cast iron pan these days that doesn’t come pre-seasoned. Anyway, on to the juicy part.

As per some advice I read online, I took some oven cleaner and sprayed the pan inside and out. Oven cleaner is toxic and corrosive to the skin, so I took it outside, donned my lovely kitchen gloves, and sprayed into a disposable roasting pan.

IMG_20130425_210611_956

IMG_20130425_210644_429

So the reason that oven cleaner works for cleaning off cast iron seasoning is that it contains lye. Lye is sodium hydroxide, which is used in making soap. And bombs. And to clean your drains. It’s strong. It’s gross. I sprayed the cleaner on the pan all over, and I put it in a garbage bag and left it for a day. I was actually worried that the oven cleaner was going to eat through the roasting pan, but thankfully it didn’t. The garbage bag was there to prevent the spray-on oven cleaner from evaporating quickly.

I was supposed to leave the pan in the bag with the lye for two days, but of course, I became impatient after one day. I took it out of the bag; it was now completely covered in brown gunk (not dissimilar to the black gunk the the vegetable oil had produced in my pan before, except there was a lot more of it). I scrubbed off the brown gunk, and voila! Off came almost all the old seasoning, just like that! Ah, the magic of science.

IMG_20130426_182900_227

IMG_20130426_182907_806

IMG_20130426_183220_663

The pan now was back to its original gun-metal dull grey color. However, as you can see if you look closely above, it nearly immediately started to rust once it was dry. The next step was to let it soak in vinegar and water for half an hour!

IMG_20130426_183752_458

The pan just barely fit into my sink, and I was able to get the whole thing submerged. I poured in an entire bottle of distilled white vinegar and filled the rest up with water. After 20 minutes or so, the pan stopped bubbling from the contact with the vinegar, and I knew it was time to remove it. I lightly scrubbed it with steel wool to get off any remaining rust, and I put it in the oven at 200 degrees to dry it off completely.

Because RI is a humid area, I needed to start the seasoning right away to prevent any real rust from forming. This is what the pan looked like immediately before I began to rub it down with flaxseed oil:

IMG_20130426_190413_112

I probably could have let it soak in the lye a bit longer, but I just wanted to get the messy part over with and move onto the fun seasoning steps.

I began to rub the pan down with flaxseed oil all over as Sheryl describes in her blog post about the science of seasoning….

IMG_20130426_190814_898

Sometimes making a mess is fun and delicious! And nutritious!

I oiled the pan, wiped almost all the oil out, set the pan upside down in the oven, turned it up to 500 this time, and let the pan pre-heat with the oven. I set the timer for 1 hour; when it went off, I turned the oven off, but didn’t open the door. Apparently, you can damage your cast iron pan by exposing it to cold air after it’s been in a 500 degree oven for an hour. It can supposedly crack or break. I was done with taking chances. At this point, I’ve spent more money restoring this old pan than it would have cost me to buy a new one. I’m invested in the pan. I’ve grown attached to it. Some people in my life find my attachment a bit strange. But I make those people tuna steaks and they quickly forget about it.

Anyway… I took the pan out after it was all cooled off (about 2 hours after I turned the oven off). TADA!!!!!! It was starting to turn black! Sort of! It was a dark bronze mixed with black. There were small spots on the rim of the pan where it was touching the oven rack, but I addressed them in the second seasoning round.

This is the pan after 1 seasoning round:

IMG_20130427_134615_215

…and after the second…

IMG_20130429_061614_110

…and the third…

IMG_20130429_061607_631

…and the fourth…

IMG_20130429_212129_685

You can see that it’s gotten progressively darker and more smooth. I’m planning on doing two more coats before I cook on it.

That’s all for now. I know that was a doozy, and it was mostly about the pan, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I have plenty of delicious posts on the horizon… my next post will be breakfast themed!

Special thanks to Lindsey White for giving me the pan, and Jenny and Andrew G. for patiently listening to me chatter on and on about it for the last several weeks!

STATS:

Prep time: hours

Cook time: weeks

Eating time: very little

Drunk Roommate Seal of Approval: “Oh, you’re seasoning that pan AGAIN? *eyeroll*”

Mood: SCIENCE!

Music playing while preparing: Lost River by Murder By Death

Peace!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Musings, Rants, and Seafood

Hi gang.

For my next trick, I return to a technique that I am much more familiar with: pan-searing and sauteing. This was inspired by the thank-you gift provided by my landlords for helping to take care of their cats while they were away last week. It’s like they read my mind, because they brought back two of my most favorite beverages: Yuengling Lager and Yuengling Porter. I was trying to think of something relatively simple to cook that paired nicely with the porter (a dark, flavorful beer), but I decided to go with something lighter that paired a bit better with the lager. I know that Yuengling isn’t the highest quality beer, but where I grew up in DE near south-east PA, Yuengling is the go-to standard beer, so I thought that I would pair it with a more New England-style dish, since, you know, I live in New England. I love scallops, and it’s the tail end of sea scallop season, so I figured I’d give it a go.

IMG_20130405_201719_555

I didn’t really have any ingredients handy, so I made a quick trip to the Shaw’s down the street and picked up the majority of the ingredients. I swung by their seafood counter, but they only had bay scallops. I forgot how tiny bay scallops were (diameter about the size of a dime) in comparison to sea scallops (diameter roughly the size of a half-dollar coin). When I saw the bay scallops, I decided that it was time to go big or go home unsatisfied, so I made the 15 minute trek back up to Whole Foods to splurge on some sea scallops.

IMG_20130405_203119_343

I saw the rather exorbitant price tag on the sea scallops ($28.99 per pound, yikes), but I couldn’t resist, so I bought 10 scallops, which was slightly more than 1 lb. Above is a picture of 5 of the scallops after I patted them dry and seasoned them. I was concerned that I had over-seasoned them, because the pepper shaker that I used poured out the pepper quite a bit faster than I hoped (oops) but there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I surged onward.

I have made sea scallops before, and I tried to remember the few things that I had done correctly in the past. They are very easy to overcook, which makes them rubbery and tough. The big things to remember are:

1: Temperature is everything. Medium to medium-high heat is desirable; you want to slightly sear the top and wait until the scallop turns from translucent to slightly opaque before flipping them. Depending on the size of the scallop, you only need to cook one side for 1.5 to 2 minutes.

2: Don’t mess with them. Don’t stir them, and don’t poke them too much. You want the scallops to be tender and slightly juicy, but they are extremely fragile when cooked correctly; the more you mess with and move them, they more juices they lose into the bottom of the pan. Sit them in the pan, flip them at the right time, and remove them with tongs or two forks.

The recipe that I used (see here) called for sautéed asparagus (easy) and a white wine butter sauce (a little more scary). I know from my limited experience with wine (at least with pairing wine to eat with dishes) that seafood and shellfish call for dry crispy white wine, like a pino grigio, so I stopped at the liquor store and picked some up. SIDEBAR: I miss living in Nevada where I can buy all my booze and wine in the grocery store. I miss it very much. Anyway, I had never really made a sauce like this before, but it didn’t seem horribly complicated. I have a habit to burn butter when I melt it (somehow), and my careful approach to the sauce overall hindered the outcome of the dish, as you’ll see in momentarily.

Anyway, I started by drying and seasoning the scallops with salt and pepper as shown above, and I chopped and prepped the asparagus. I’m sort of a doofus, and I always forget to wash vegetables before I cook them, so hopefully in future posts I don’t get contaminated with Round-Up or other yummy pesticides! Asparagus requires you to break off the woody root part at the base of the asparagus (I did it by hand), as shown here:

IMG_20130405_202205_721

I chopped the asparagus into small pieces and tossed it in the pan with some olive oil that I had already begun to heat up. I also pre-heated the oven to around 220 degrees in order to keep the asparagus warm after I cooked it while I cooked the scallops and sauce.

IMG_20130405_203354_987

Part of the point of this dish is that the scallops get cooked in oil with traces of the moisture that escapes from the asparagus in the pan, so I didn’t wipe the pan out between the asparagus and the scallops. I may have undercooked the asparagus a bit, as I wish it was a little more well done in the center of the pieces, but I figured that the oven would help to cook the asparagus a little bit more after I sautéed it. I wasn’t really correct in this assumption, but slightly underdone asparagus was the least of my worries.

My main concern was getting proper temperature in the saute pan for the scallops, as I know that they are extremely easy to overcook. After I cooked the asparagus, I loaded it into the oven in a bowl to keep it warm…

IMG_20130405_202835_692

…and I proceeded to mess with the temperature dial on my electric burner until it seemed like the correct temperature. I knew that I didn’t want the oil to be smoking as I put the scallops in the pan, so I brought the temperature down to an appropriate level to cool off the pan…

IMG_20130405_204406_895

…and I carefully placed the scallops in the pan with the oil that I heated up for about 30 seconds before hand.

IMG_20130405_203936_212

There were a few things that didn’t sit exactly right with me about this situation, so I cooked the scallops on high alert. First, I hate electric burners. I despise them. I learned everything I’ve ever known about cooking on a gas stove, and I have much less trouble when I can actually see the flame. Second, the pan that I was using was a sort of crappy non-stick pan that belongs to my roommate. It is not flat. As you can see in the picture above, the oil was collecting on the handle side and sizzling a little bit more around one of the five scallops. I counteracted this by trying to manually move the oil around the pan by slightly tilting it to make it more level without taking it off the heat, moving the oil to the scallops that seemed neglected by the cruel fate of gravity. In hindsight, I think this worked pretty well, but I had to be extremely vigilant. You can’t really walk away from scallops when you’re cooking them anyway, but this helped me to pay extra attention and not totally screw it up. I had a moment of panic when I flipped them over, because the relatively heavy seasoning that I put on them beforehand looked like burned spots at first. At second glance, they actually looked perfect. They were browned at the edges, and starting to slightly split open. My roommate, who had stepped away from his Netflix movie to watch the exciting moment, can attest to my initial horror, and then my rescinding back into joy. I’m pretty sure I said something like, “That’s f*cking money.” Here is a picture of said money:

IMG_20130405_204837_539

They had turned from translucent to opaque, just as I expertly (haha) mentioned above in my initial tips. It was now time for the sauce. I set the scallops aside (small mistake! as I will get into below in more detail) and charged onward.

IMG_20130405_204847_225

I poured a third cup of pino grigio and a few splashes of white wine vinegar into the pan. They started to boil and dissolve the brown residue left from the scallops. I let it reduce down to about 2 tablespoons (as per the recipe I was using! Look at me, following the rules) and reduced the heat to low before I started adding the butter a little bit at a time. Part of me is extremely impressed that I remembered to lower the heat, as I am a world champion butter-burner. I attribute this to my long stint as a vegan and my inexperience with butter as a whole. Up until my mid-twenties, I didn’t even like butter. I know, that’s blasphemy. Let’s move on.

IMG_20130405_205403_918

I took a video of the awesomeness that was the consistency of the butter-wine sauce (is there a proper name for butter-wine sauce? I’m sure there’s a fancy French name for it), but because I’m a cheapskate, I can’t upload it to wordpress, and I’m too lazy to put it on Youtube. You’ll have to get by with my meager verbal description:

It was thick, marbled, and smelled delicious. It smelled like warmth, in the same way that I remember my paternal grandmother’s kitchen smelling when I was a boy. Except she couldn’t really cook. At all. The Thanksgiving turkey was dry like chalk at her house.

In truth, I was going to season the sauce with a bit of thyme and garlic, but I completely forgot and didn’t remember until I was ready to plate, so I went on without it.

I took the asparagus out of the oven, attempted to plate it in an elegant way on top of my scallops, and poured on the sauce directly from the pan. I must say, I think it looked pretty good. I was griping afterwards that I should have used a clean plate, but my roommate commented that it would have given an inaccurate illusion of high-class. We are certainly not high-class. Pictures of our classlessness will be displayed below. But first, the finished product.

IMG_20130405_205656_205

IMG_20130405_205650_233

(note the high class Nalgene water bottle, AA batteries, and ball-point pen on our dinner table)

I bit into a scallop, and I was pleasantly surprised. They were tender, fragile yet solid, and  incredibly flavorful. They were slightly salty and peppery, but to my surprise, the seasoning didn’t overpower the mild flavor of the shellfish. The sauce added a tiny bit of sweetness from the butter, but just enough to compliment the taste of the fresh scallops. SUCCESS! My ONLY issue was that they weren’t quite hot enough. I took too long preparing the sauce. The asparagus was, as I expected, not quite cooked enough either, but it was close enough for my simple tastes. I took a sip of the wine, which, coincidentally, I had tried while I was cooking the asparagus and didn’t really care for at the time. However, when paired with the seafood, the bitterness and dryness was nicely balanced out by the taste of the scallops. Yay! My first actually successful food-wine pairing on my first attempt. Hallelujah! It also tasted pretty good with the beer, but I wasn’t struck nearly as much by the balance as I was with the wine.

IMG_20130405_210039_884

Overall, I would call this a success, despite the lukewarm scallops and the slightly undercooked asparagus. I accomplished the things that I really cared about: properly cooking the shellfish, and making a sauce that was functional and not overpowering. The best news is that as I write this, my mouth is watering for the remaining 5 scallops that I’m going to cook tonight!

This dish is a perfect example of why I love cooking. It involves careful temperature adjustment for the shellfish, casual sauteing for the asparagus, and interesting chemistry in preparing the sauce. I learned the basics by tossing things into a saute pan with olive oil, and I’ve come to understand a few details about the more advanced techniques involved with the stovetop and the saute pan. I managed to make a “gourmet” dish with relative ease, and I’m confident that anyone could do the same, and easily improve on what I did. But I am by no means a “gourmet” chef or amateur cook. Here are a few shots of my very bachelor-y kitchen in it’s usual resting state:

IMG_20130405_203415_650

IMG_20130405_203424_971

I make no promises to always keep things gourmet, but I do promise to keep it real. Always. Bye for now.

STATS:

Prep time: ~8 minutes

Cook time: ~10 minutes

Eating time: 5 minutes

Drunk Roommate Seal of Approval: YES!

Mood: salivating heavily like my landlord’s cat

Music playing while preparing: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies on Netflix in the background

Peace!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Munching on Beer Bread as I Emerge From My Internet Cave

Okay, check it:

I have been living in an internet cave, so to speak. I’ve seen the shadows on the cave walls being cast by the blinding and mesmerizing light of the major aggregate sites flickering for some time now, and now I’ve decided to step out of the darkness and into the big scary world of blogs and creating my own “content”. (I seriously hate that word, and I promise to try to never use it again. I swear.)  

I absolutely love to cook; I love making a huge mess in the kitchen and subsequently cleaning it up. But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure I’m a mediocre cook at best. Now that I have the means to do so (kitchen space, non-creepy roommates who hog the kitchen and the storage space, camera, etc) I’ve decided to document my headfirst blindfolded swan dive into the world of cooking by way of a headfirst blindfolded swan dive into the world of blogging. Yeesh.

Okay, on to the main course, so to speak. Again, let it be known:

I LOVE COOKING! 

…however, on the opposite end of the spectrum…

I HATE BAKING!

I will get into the details of why this is in future ramblings, but it for some reason seemed fitting that I kick off this blog by making something that took me completely out of my comfort zone of the stovetop and into the dreaded oven.

So, the story: my roommate went to a wedding shower for a mutual friend last weekend. Everyone who attended was given a party favor:

IMG_20130326_125818_007a mason jar with the dry ingredients for a beer bread! I love beer! How hard can that be?

IMG_20130326_125831_998With directions attached on a string!

How could I possibly mess this up??

So I got my tools together:

IMG_20130326_125937_359(just an FYI: there are no mixing bowls at my apartment, so I’m mixing in a pot. With my brand new 50cent wooden spoon and $4 bread pan)

I preheated the oven:

IMG_20130326_125843_417I’ve forgotten to preheat the oven so many times in the past, so I already knew it was going to be a good day.

I poured the ingredients into the pot and stirred them up a bit. I noticed that the brown sugar in the jar had clumped up considerably (half the size of my fist), so I tried to separate it from the flour and sugar a bit. Now I was ready for the beer! The most exciting part.

I luckily had two bottles left of one of my favorite craft beers: Loose Cannon Hop^3 IPA by Heavy Seas out of Baltimore.

IMG_20130326_130006_060

It’s a good IPA with a nice golden color, a hoppy aroma and earthy flavor, but with an extremely smooth finish. (7.2%, 56 IBUs) I figured that it would be subtle but flavorful in the bread. Except I know nothing about baking. So I was mostly just guessing.

I poured the beer into the pot and mixed it a bit…

IMG_20130326_131008_295

Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of how much it foamed, because it was pretty cool. It smelled a bit weird and yeast-y, so I stirred some more until the beer was absorbed. I was afraid that it wasn’t enough beer, because the dough quickly got past the “stir just until moist” bit on the directions, but I didn’t mind. I got it to the point that you see here.

At the same time, I had set some butter in a small pot on a burner to melt to be poured on top of the dough once it was in the pan:

IMG_20130326_130511_107

Again, I missed the riveting action shot of the butter melting. Sadness.

I “poured” (more like plopped) the dough into the greased pan as instructed and spread it around a bit so that it was slightly more even:

IMG_20130326_131428_373

Then I added the melted butter, which was still actually sort of hot; I didn’t really give it a chance to cool off. I was worried that this would have some sort of adverse effect.

IMG_20130326_131553_703

Then I put the loaf into the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes, and made myself a pot of tea. Egads.

IMG_20130326_132345_062

I checked on the loaf periodically to make sure that it wasn’t burning, as I actually have never used this oven before, but it seemed fine. It’s an electric oven, so I wasn’t terribly worried.

I didn’t have a toothpick to check to see if the bread was done, so I improvised and used a chopstick!

IMG_20130326_140204_771

All clean! I took the bread out and let it cool on the wire rack for about 15 minutes before I tried to remove it from the pan. Much to my surprise, it slid out cleanly! The melted butter had slid down the sides of the loaf, forming a harder, darker crust on the bottom. I probably could have let it bake for a few more minutes, but I always get impatient with baked goods.

IMG_20130326_142035_564

IMG_20130326_142043_684

I guessed that the dark spots on the sides were pockets of brown sugar that I didn’t properly mix into the dough before I added the beer, but it was obviously too late to do anything about it! I was worried that it would affect the overall sweetness of the bread, but honestly, I wasn’t sure exactly what it was supposed to taste like if I had done it “correctly”.

It was still warm and soft when I cut into it:

IMG_20130326_142238_481

…but it looked like it had baked all the way through. Now for the fun part!

IMG_20130326_142318_937

My first slice that I tried was the end piece. My mother will tell you that I have always loved the end pieces, so I was glad to get first dibs at it, as I was the only one home at the time, and she lives 6 hours away. I still expected her to pop out of the closet or a cabinet or something and steal the end piece from me like she always does, though.

Upon tasting, I discovered that the buttery crust on the bottom was sweet, and the “meat” of the bread had a slightly salty, yeast-y taste, as well as a subtle bitter finish, which I assume is from the beer choice. To me it even tasted a bit nutty? I have no idea. I attempted to write down my initial impressions, and nutty was at the top of the list.

I couldn’t help but think that if I had mixed the dry ingredients a bit more (the brown sugar, specifically) and maybe waited for the butter to cool a bit before pouring it on top of the dough in the pan that it might have come out a little more as it was intended to on the recipe. There is another mason jar with the dry ingredients in it at my disposal, so maybe I’ll experiment a bit more at another time and post the results.

Overall, I was impressed at how delicious it was. I also had my last Loose Cannon to go with the bread slices (even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon and I was home sick…. you know… for science…). The bread definitely had similar qualities to the beer, but they were muted by the spices and seasoning that were in the dry mix that came from the jar.

Conclusion: great success! I ate a few more slices today with my lunch, and it’s safe to say that I didn’t royally screw this one up. But that’s not really indicative of my skills as a baker, seeing as I did not really prepare any of the dry goods other than some light mixing after they came out of the jar into my makeshift mixing bowl.

So that’s it for now. I hope that you enjoyed that as much as I did; a few pictures, some musings, and a little forced self-deprecating humor.

STATS:

Prep time: 15 mins

Bake time: 48 mins

Eating time: ~45 seconds

Mood: still getting over sharp pain in my ear from the morning

Music playing while preparing: Outkast: Return of the G from the album Aquemini

Peace!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments